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Utah Republican Party v. Cox

United States Court of Appeals, Tenth Circuit

March 20, 2018

UTAH REPUBLICAN PARTY, Plaintiff - Appellant,
v.
SPENCER J. COX, in his official capacity as Lieutenant Governor of Utah, Defendant-Appellee. and UTAH DEMOCRATIC PARTY, Plaintiff Intervenor, UTAH REPUBLICAN PARTY, Plaintiff, and UTAH DEMOCRATIC PARTY, Plaintiff Intervenor - Appellant,
v.
SPENCER J. COX, in his official capacity as Lieutenant Governor of Utah, Defendant-Appellee.

         Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Utah (D.C. No. 2:16-CV-00038-DN)

          Marcus Mumford, Mumford Law, Salt Lake City, Utah, for Plaintiff-Appellant.

          David P. Billings, Fabian VanCott, Salt Lake City, Utah (Peter W. Billings and Charles A. Stormont, Fabian VanCott, Salt Lake City, Utah, and Clemens A. Landau, Zimmerman Jones Booher, Salt Lake City, Utah, with him on the briefs), for Plaintiff -Intervenor-Appellant.

          Tyler R. Green (Stanford E. Purser with him on the brief), Utah Attorney General's Office, Salt Lake City, Utah, for Defendant-Appellee.

          Before TYMKOVICH, Chief Judge, EBEL, and LUCERO, Circuit Judges.

          EBEL, CIRCUIT JUDGE.

         These appeals are only the most recent volley in the spate of litigation that has dogged the Utah Elections Amendments Act of 2014, commonly known as SB54, since it was signed into law in March 2014. At issue here, SB54 reorganized the process for qualifying for a primary ballot in Utah, most importantly by providing an alternative signature-gathering path to the primary election ballot for candidates who are unable or unwilling to gain approval from the central party nominating conventions. Prior to the passage of SB54, the Utah Republican Party ("URP") selected its candidates for primary elections exclusively through its state nominating convention, and it would prefer to continue to do so.

         In this litigation, the URP sued Utah Lieutenant Governor Spencer Cox in his official capacity ("the State")[1], alleging that two aspects of SB54 violate the URP's freedom of association under the First Amendment, as applied to the States by the Fourteenth Amendment. The two challenged sections (1) require parties to allow candidates to qualify for the primary ballot through either the nominating convention or by gathering signatures, or both (the "Either or Both Provision"); and (2) require candidates pursuing the primary ballot in State House and State Senate elections through a signature gathering method to collect a set number of signatures (the "Signature Requirement"). In two separate orders, the United States District Court for the District of Utah balanced the URP's First Amendment right of association against the State's interest in managing and regulating elections, and rejected the URP's claims. Re-conducting that balancing de novo on appeal, we AFFIRM.

         I. BACKGROUND

         According to its constitution and bylaws, the URP's process for nominating a candidate to the general election proceeds along a singular path. Candidates present their candidacy to the delegates at the party convention, and the delegates then caucus for nominees for each office. If a single candidate achieves over 60% of the caucus vote, that candidate is certified to the state for placement on the general election ballot, and no primary is held. If no candidate receives 60% of the convention vote, the top two candidates proceed to a state-administered primary election involving only URP members. The winner of that primary election is then certified to the state for placement on the general election ballot.

         In 2014, the Utah Legislature-comprised of overwhelming Republican majorities in both the State House and State Senate-passed SB54, which addressed this process. Specifically, SB54 created two types of political parties: Registered Political Parties ("RPPs") and Qualified Political Parties ("QPPs"). Both RPPs and QPPs are eligible to have the name of the party printed next to their candidates on the general election ballot, Utah Code § 20A-6-301(1)(d); the only significant difference being how each is permitted to qualify candidates for its primary election. Members of RPPs who wish to participate in a primary election may do so only by gathering the signatures of 2% of the eligible primary voters for the office sought. Utah Code § 20A-9-403(3)(a).

         If a party chooses to register as a QPP, however, it may still hold a caucus, and may certify the winners of the caucus to the primary ballot as before. See generally Utah Code § 20A-9-406 et seq. But unlike under the previous system, a party may not restrict access to the primary ballot just to candidates who emerge from the party convention. Under SB54, a candidate who is unwilling or unable to gain placement on the primary ballot through the caucus and convention may still qualify for the primary by gathering a set number of signatures by petition from eligible primary voters.[2] Specifically, SB54 provides that in order to qualify as a QPP the party must allow its members "to seek the registered political party's nomination for any elective office by the member choosing to seek the nomination by either or both of the following methods: (i) seeking the nomination through the registered political party's convention process . . . or (ii) seeking the nomination by collecting signatures[.]" Utah Code § 20A-9-101(12)(c) ("the Either or Both Provision") (emphasis added).

         It is clear from our review of the record that this "two-path" system was a compromise crafted between Utah legislators hoping to preserve the URP's caucus system and outside interests pushing a pure primary system. The end result was that a QPP's primary ballot can now include both candidates who qualified through the caucus and candidates who qualified by gathering signatures. Utah Code § 20A-9-408. As originally passed, it also required parties to allow unaffiliated voters to participate in their primary elections (the "Unaffiliated Voter Provision"), but that provision was later invalidated and is not before us.

         II. PROCEDURE AND JURISDICTION

         A. The First Lawsuit

         SB54 was signed into law on March 10, 2014, and the URP filed suit later that year seeking an injunction and declaratory judgment that the law was unconstitutional as applied to the URP (the "First Lawsuit"). The Constitutional Party of Utah ("CPU") joined the First Lawsuit, challenging the Signature Requirement in particular.

         In the First Lawsuit, the district court denied the URP and the CPU a preliminary injunction, ruling that none of the alleged constitutional burdens were severe save for the Unaffiliated Voter Provision, which was not yet ripe for review. Utah Republican Party v. Herbert, 133 F.Supp.3d 1337 (D. Utah 2015) ("URP I"). Once the URP notified the state that it intended to become a QPP, that issue ripened and the district court granted the URP summary judgment invalidating the Unaffiliated Voter Provision. Utah Republican Party v. Herbert, 144 F.Supp.3d 1263, 1278-82 (D. Utah 2015) ("URP II").

         In doing so, the court held that the Unaffiliated Voter Provision imposed a severe burden on the URP's associational rights and the State had no compelling interest to justify that burden. Id. The practical effect of the First Lawsuit, then, was to invalidate SB54's Unaffiliated Voter Provision, see id., while upholding the Signature Requirement, the Either or Both Provision, and all other aspects of SB54, see id.; URP I, 133 F.Supp.3d 1337. The rulings in the First Lawsuit are not before us on appeal.[3]

         B. The Second Lawsuit

         After the First Lawsuit, the URP announced that it would permit nomination only by caucus. The URP's justification for doing so was that it interpreted the Either or Both Provision as offering the political party (rather than the candidates) the option to allow nomination by either the signature gathering method, or the convention method, or both. The Lieutenant Governor responded that it was the State's position that under SB54 it is the party member's choice, not the party's, whether to pursue the nomination using the signature gathering method, the convention method, or both.

         Following this interpretation by the Lieutenant Governor, the URP filed this suit in the United States District Court for the District of Utah seeking declaratory and injunctive relief that SB54 was unconstitutional. The phrasing of its Complaint was similar to the Complaint filed in the First Lawsuit. See Utah Republican Party v. Cox, 177 F.Supp.3d 1343, 1354 (D. Utah 2016) ("URP III") (noting similarities). The party reiterated its argument that SB54 violated its freedom of association under the First and Fourteenth Amendments, and added a claim that the State should be judicially estopped from advancing an interpretation of the Either or Both Provision that differed from the one it advanced in the First Lawsuit. Shortly thereafter the Utah Democratic Party ("UDP") intervened as co-plaintiff to defend against the possibility that portions of SB54 would apply to one political party but not the other, and to complain that the URP's bylaws and constitution violated SB54.

         In February of 2016, the district court certified two questions of state law to the Utah Supreme Court. The first requested that court's interpretation of the Either or Both Provision, asking whether that provision meant the candidate member or the party had the right to choose which-or both-of the qualification processes to use. See Utah Republican Party v. Cox, 178 F.Supp.3d 1150, 1165 (D. Utah 2016) ("URP IV") (discussing certification). The Utah Supreme Court replied that the Either or Both Provision allows the candidate member, not the party, to select which of those two paths to follow in an effort to be certified to the primary ballot. Utah Republican Party v. Cox, 373 P.3d 1286, 1287 (Utah 2016). The second question, certified at the request of the UDP, was what would happen if a party elects to become a QPP under Utah law, but fails to comply with the requirements of that status. URP IV, 178 F.Supp.3d at 1166. The Utah Supreme Court declined to answer the second question, finding it not ripe for review because it was not yet clear whether the URP was going to comply with SB54. Cox, 373 P.3d at 1288.

         While waiting for those answers from the Utah Supreme Court, the UDP and the State filed motions in federal court for judgment on the pleadings, and the URP filed for partial summary judgment on its claims relating to the Signature Requirement. On April 6, 2016, the district court ruled that (1) the URP's claims were not barred by claim preclusion, issue preclusion, or claim splitting, (2) the State should not be judicially estopped from advancing its interpretation of the Either or Both Provision, and (3) the Signature Requirement was valid because it did not present a severe burden to the URP. URP III, 177 F.Supp.3d at 1356, 1362, 1365. The district court granted summary judgment for the State on the judicial estoppel issue and also as to the signature requirements pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(f). Id.

         After the Utah Supreme Court answered the certified questions, the district court ruled on the remaining issues relating to the Either or Both Provision. It first held that the URP was not precluded from challenging the constitutionality of the Either or Both Provision, URP IV, 178 F.Supp.3d at 1170, and that the Either or Both Provision-as interpreted by the Utah Supreme Court-did not infringe on the URP's First Amendment right of association, id. at 1179. Finally, the court rejected the URP's claim that SB54 was the result of impermissible viewpoint discrimination, and then the court granted summary judgment for the State. Id. at 1187.

         URP timely appealed the district court's grant of summary judgment. The UDP subsequently cross-appealed, challenging the district court's denial of judgment on the pleadings based on assertions of claim preclusion, issue preclusion, and claim splitting, and also the portions of the district court's opinion which purport to invalidate the URP's bylaws and constitution to the extent those provisions conflict with SB54. We consolidated the related appeals, and exercise jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1291.[4]

         III. DISCUSSION

         On appeal, this case presents two primary issues. First, the URP challenges the district court's decision to uphold the Either or Both Provision as a constitutional electoral regulation. Second, URP argues that the district court erred in concluding that the number of signatures required in the Signature Requirements for State House and State Senate are not unconstitutionally burdensome. The district court granted summary judgment for the State and against the URP on both these issues pursuant to Rule 56(f). See URP III, 177 F.Supp.3d at 1371 (awarding summary judgment against the URP on the signature requirements under Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(f)); URP IV, 178 F.Supp.3d at 1188 (awarding summary judgment against the URP on the Either or Both Provision under Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(f)). On appeal we also address claims raised by the UDP and the conduct of URP counsel Marcus Mumford.

         "We review the district court's summary judgment de novo, applying the same standard as the district court, " and drawing all reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Ellis v. J.R.'s Country Stores, Inc., 779 F.3d 1184, 1191-92 (10th Cir. 2015) (internal citations and quotations omitted). After careful review of the Record and the pleadings, we now AFFIRM the district court's grant of summary judgement for the Lieutenant Governor on both the Either or Both Provision and the Signature Requirements, conclude that the UDP's claims are not ripe for review, and decline to pursue sanctions against Mr. Mumford. Each issue is addressed below.

         A. The Either or Both Provision

         Under SB54, a political party that chooses to register as a QPP, and is therefore eligible to maintain its caucus system, must alternatively allow its members the option to "seek the . . . party's nomination for any elective office by the member choosing to seek the nomination by either or both of the following methods: (i) seeking the nomination through the [the party's] convention process . . . (ii) seeking the nomination by collecting signatures . . . ." Utah Code § 20A-9-101(12)(c) (emphasis added); see also Cox, 373 P.3d at 1287 (Utah 2016) (interpreting that provision to offer the member, rather than the party, the choice). On appeal, the URP argues that this provision is an unconstitutional burden on its freedom of association under the First and Fourteenth Amendments. Aplt. Br. at 32-33 (citing N.Y. State Bd. of Elections v. Lopez Torres, 552 U.S. 196, 202-03 (2008)).

         "It is beyond cavil that 'voting is of the most fundamental significance under our constitutional structure.'" Burdick v. Takushi, 504 U.S. 428, 433 (1992) (quoting Ill. Bd. of Elections v. Socialist Workers Party, 440 U.S. 173, 184 (1979)). Access to the ballot and the ballot box is the necessary catalyst in the carefully calibrated system of individual freedoms and separation of powers crafted by our founding fathers. Accordingly, we take great care to scrutinize any electoral regulation that would appear to restrict this access.

         "It does not follow, however, that the right to vote in any manner and the right to associate for political purposes through the ballot are absolute, " Burdick, 504 U.S. at 433 (citing Munro v. Socialist Workers Party, 479 U.S. 189, 193 (1986)), or that a state may not pass reasonable, nondiscriminatory electoral regulations. The Constitution grants states the right to prescribe "[t]he Times, Places and Manner of Holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, " Art I, § 4, cl. 1, and the Supreme Court has held that states enjoy similar authority to regulate their own elections, see, e.g., Tashjian v. Republican Party of Conn., 479 U.S. 208, 217 (1986). The Court has further recognized that "as a practical matter, there must be a substantial regulation of elections if they are to be fair and honest and if some sort of order, rather than chaos, is to accompany the democratic processes." Storer v. Brown, 415 U.S. 724, 730 (1974).

         These regulations, however, whether they prescribe the time, place, and manner of elections or otherwise provide for orderly selection of the people's representatives, will invariably impose some burden upon individual voters and political parties. See Anderson v. Celebrezze, 460 U.S. 780, 788 (1983). For example, even a state's decision to close its polls at 7:00 PM instead of 8:00 PM will invariably burden some voters-and therefore their respective parties-for whom the earlier time is inconvenient; so too, however, if the state chose 8:00 PM instead of 9:00 PM. These burdens, then, must necessarily accommodate a state's legitimate interest in providing order, stability, and legitimacy to the electoral process. See Timmons v. Twin Cities Area New Party, 520 U.S. 351, 358 (1997) ("[I]t is also clear that States may, and inevitably must, enact reasonable regulations of parties, elections, and ballots to reduce election- and campaign-related disorder.") (internal citations omitted).

         Amidst this confluence of interests and burdens we analyze electoral regulations using the now-familiar Anderson-Burdick balancing test. Under Anderson-Burdick,

a court considering a challenge to a state election law must weigh 'the character and magnitude of the asserted injury to the rights protected by the First and Fourteenth Amendments that the plaintiff seeks to vindicate' against the 'precise interests put forward by the State as justifications for the burden imposed by its rule, ' taking into consideration 'the extent to which those interests make it necessary to burden the plaintiff's rights.'

Burdick, 504 U.S. at 434 (quoting Anderson, 460 U.S. at 789). If, a regulation is found to impose "severe burdens" on a party's associational rights, it must be "narrowly tailored to serve a compelling state interest." Clingman v. Beaver, 544 U.S. 581, 586 (2005) (citing Timmons, 520 U.S. at 358). "However, when regulations impose lesser burdens, 'a State's important regulatory interests will usually be enough to justify reasonable, nondiscriminatory restrictions.'" Clingman, 544 U.S. at 586-87 (quoting Timmons, 520 U.S. at 358).

         1. The Party's Burdens

         This case addresses Utah's electoral regulations contained in SB54 that target the method by which a QPP selects its nominee to appear on the general election ballot for state and federal offices. In this process both the political party and the state have legitimate constitutional interests that need to be balanced. While states play an important role in "structuring and monitoring the election process, including primaries, " the political parties also have a First Amendment Right of Association that has to be balanced against the state's interests. Cal. Democratic Party v. Jones, 530 U.S. 567, 572 (2000). It is through primary elections that a "party's positions on the most significant public policy issues of the day" are often determined, and it is a party's "nominee who becomes the party's ambassador to the general electorate in winning it over to the party's views." Id. at 575. The URP argues that SB54 infringes on its First Amendment associational rights by forcing it to adopt a candidate-selection process different from that which it would prefer. However, the Supreme Court has recognized that when political parties become involved in a state-administered primary election, the state acquires a legitimate interest in regulating the manner in which that election unfolds-subject only to the same interest-balancing that occurs throughout the Court's electoral jurisprudence.

         The distinction between wholly internal aspects of party administration on one hand and participation in state-run, state-financed elections on the other is at the heart of this case. When a party selects its platform, its Chairman, or even whom it will endorse in the upcoming election, the state generally has no more interest in these internal activities than in the administration of the local Elks lodge or bar association. But when the party's actions turn outwards to the actual nomination and election of an individual who will swear an oath not to protect the Party, but instead the Constitution, and when the individual ultimately elected has the responsibility to represent all the residents in his or her district, the state acquires a manifest interest in that activity, and the party's interest in such activity must share the stage with the state's manifest interest. The dissent blurs this distinction between the party's internal and external activity.[5]

          The Supreme Court's jurisprudence has consistently reflected this difference between a party's internal mechanisms and its external manifestations.

A political party has a First Amendment right to limit its membership as it wishes, and to choose a candidate-selection process that will in its view produce the nominee who best represents its political platform. These rights are circumscribed, however, when the State gives the party a role in the election process-as New York has done here by giving certain parties the right to have their candidates appear with party endorsement on the general-election ballot. Then . . . the State acquires a legitimate governmental interest in ensuring the fairness of the party's nominating process, enabling it to prescribe what that process must be.

N.Y. State Bd. of Elections v. Lopez Torres, 552 U.S. 196, 202-03 (2008) (internal citations omitted).

         Lopez Torres may be a relatively modern case, but the Supreme Court's recognition of the state's vital regulatory role in primary elections is hardly a recent development. As early as 1941 the Supreme Court held that state-administered primary elections, as a "necessary step in the choice of candidates for election as representatives[, ]" are subject to congressional and state regulation. United States v. Classic, 313 U.S. 299, 319-20 (1941). As our country grappled with the scourge of racial and economic discrimination at the ballot box, the Supreme Court consistently intervened in the so-called "White Primary Cases" to recognize that primary elections-or even pre-primary party activity that restricted access to the primary ballot-were sufficiently "state action" to trigger application of the Reconstruction Amendments. See Terry v. Adams, 345 U.S. 461, 469-70 (1953); Smith v. Allwright, 321 U.S. 649, 663-64 (1944).

         To be sure, the "White Primary" cases do not stand for the proposition that the "processes by which political parties select their nominees are . . . wholly public affairs that States may regulate freely." Jones, 530 U.S. at 572-73. Nor do we suggest that a party's decision to restrict its primary to only convention delegates via the caucus approach is anywhere near the overt discrimination at issue in those cases. Rather our consideration of those cases extends only insomuch as they indicate that a party's external activities in selecting candidates for public office must necessarily be subject to greater state involvement and scrutiny than its wholly internal machinations.[6]

         In recognition of the state's role in ensuring a democratic and fair primary election the Supreme Court has called it "too plain for argument . . . that the State may . . . insist that intraparty competition be settled before the general election by primary election or by party convention." Am. Party of Tex. v. White, 415 U.S. 767, 781 (1974). Then, in 2000, the Court elaborated further, ruling that "a state may require parties to use the primary format for selecting their nominees, in order to assure that intraparty competition is resolved in a democratic fashion." Jones, 530 U.S. at 572 (citing White, 415 U.S. at 781). All told, by the time Lopez Torres arrived in 2008, the Court considered the issue settled, mentioning in passing: "To be sure, we have . . . permitted States to set their faces against 'party bosses' by requiring party-candidate selection through processes more favorable to insurgents, such as primaries." 552 U.S. at 205.

         We recognize that each of these statements, while instructive, is technically dicta, but it appears to be clearly established dicta. See Jones, 530 U.S. at 594 (Stevens, J., dissenting) ("I think it clear-though the point has never been decided by this Court-'that a State may require parties to use the primary format for selecting their nominees.'") (quoting majority). We are "bound by Supreme Court dicta almost as firmly as by the Court's outright holdings, particularly when the dicta is recent and not enfeebled by later statements." Gaylor v. United States, 74 F.3d 214, 217 (10th Cir. 1996) (internal citations omitted). This principle is especially relevant where, as here, the dicta has been explicitly reaffirmed several times, across multiple different eras, by Justices both in support and in dissent. See Tashjian v. Republican Party of Conn., 479 U.S. 208, 237 (1986) (Scalia, J., dissenting) (basing argument on "the validity of the state-imposed primary requirement" because the Supreme Court has "hitherto considered [that validity] 'too plain for argument'"). Finally, if we were hesitant to follow this dicta, we could perhaps be persuaded by our own circuit having favorably cited-without relying-on this very language as early as 1988. See Rainbow Coal. of Okla. v. Okla State Election Bd., 844 F.2d 740, 745 n.7 (10th Cir. 1988) (noting that "the Supreme Court has pointed out 'that the State may . . . insist that intraparty competition be settled before the general election by primary election or by party convention'").[7] In short, we are unwilling to ascribe to so many jurists the contention that their reliance on this dicta was "completely assumed and unreasoned." See Dissent at 37.

         Furthermore, even beyond this consistent dicta, the Supreme Court has explicitly upheld a State's ability to regulate the scope of a party primary. In Clingman v. Beaver, the Court considered the constitutionality of an Oklahoma law restricting the right to vote in party primary elections to voters who were registered as either independents or as members of the party. 544 U.S. at 584. There, a party that wanted to open its primary to all registered voters sued, and the Court found that the restrictive regulation only "minimally" burdened the party. Id. at 590. The Court so held because "Oklahoma's law does not regulate the [party's] internal processes, its authority to exclude unwanted members, or its capacity to communicate with the public." Id.

         The same could be said of SB54. SB54 does not regulate the party's internal process; in fact its grand compromise was to maintain the URP's traditional caucus system as a path onto the primary ballot. Furthermore, because the First Lawsuit excised the Unaffiliated Voter Provision, the law no longer proscribes the URP's authority to exclude unwanted members from its primary. Finally, nothing in SB54 prevents the URP from endorsing the candidate of its choice and using traditional advertising channels to communicate that endorsement to the state's voters. Contra Eu v. S.F. Cty. Democratic Cent. Comm., 489 U.S. 214, 222-29 (1989) (invalidating a California ban on primary endorsements). In light of the Supreme Court's recent and consistent dicta, as well as its holding in Clingman, we see no choice but to find the Either or Both Provision only minimally burdensome on the URP.

         As a final salvo, however, the URP argues that the Either or Both Provision imposes severe burdens on its associational rights because it leaves the party vulnerable to being saddled with a nominee with whom it does not agree. See Aplt. Br. at 40. We are not so persuaded.

         First and foremost, this case is not, as the dissent would suggest, about who the candidates are, but rather who the deciders are. SB54 was not designed to change the substantive candidates who emerged from the parties, but rather only to ensure that all the party members have some voice in deciding who their party's representative will be in the general election. SB54's goal was to ensure only that the will of all the URP was not being truncated by an overly restrictive and potentially unrepresentative nominating process.

         Balancing the State's interests against the interests of an association requires us to define the association with the requisite specificity. Here, where the argument is that SB54 may lead to a party nominating a candidate with whom it may not agree, [8] the question before this Court is whether the burdens imposed on the URP by SB54 are minimal or severe. See Aplt. Br. at 31 (defining the first step of the Anderson-Burdick test as whether the law burdens a "political party's constitutional rights."). Put another way, our task today is to analyze SB54's burdens on the Utah Republican Party, or, put still differently, the group of like-minded individuals in Utah who have joined together under the banner of the Republican Party-rather than just the leadership of the party.

         The URP, like all political parties, has "a right to identify the people who constitute the association, and to select a standard bearer who best represents the party's ideologies and preferences." Eu, 489 U.S. at 224 (internal citations and quotations omitted) (emphasis added). That is why the district court declared the Unaffiliated Voter Provision, which forced the URP to allow nonmembers to help select its candidates, unconstitutional in the First Lawsuit. URP II, 144 F.Supp.3d. at 1280.

         But now that the Unaffiliated Voter Provision has been excised from SB54, the URP is no longer in danger of fielding a general election candidate who does not enjoy the support of at least a plurality of the voting members of the Utah Republican Party.[9] It is true, as has happened since the passage of SB54, in fact, [10] that the eventual nominee may not enjoy the support of a plurality of the roughly 3, 500 party delegates that comprise the URP's caucus electorate. But that failure does not implicate the associational rights of the party, which consists of the roughly 600, 000 registered Republicans in Utah, and which is not limited to the party-convention-delegates.

         The party leaders and convention delegates are still free to communicate to the rest of their party which of the candidates on the primary ballot the leadership supports.[11] But if the URP wants to open its doors to roughly 600, 000 people across the state of Utah, the associational rights of the party are not severely burdened when the will of those voters might reflect a different choice than would be made by the party leadership. To say otherwise is to erroneously conclude that the rights and interests of the association extend only to the rights and interests of the party leadership. See Tashjian, 479 U.S. at 215 ("A major state political party necessarily includes individuals playing a broad spectrum of roles in the organization's activities.").[12] In further support, we need only look to the Supreme Court for unambiguous direction: "To be sure, we have . . . permitted States to set their faces against 'party bosses' by requiring party-candidate selection through processes more favorable to insurgents, such as primaries." Lopez Torres, 552 U.S. at 205.[13]

         The unambiguous import of Lopez Torres is that in order to "set their faces against 'party bosses'" states may require primary elections. See id. (emphasis added). This language establishes that the associational rights of a political party expand beyond the party leadership, and would be toothless if party bosses could dictate how candidates can qualify for the primary ballot, perhaps, for example, by requiring candidates to win the support of "party bosses" in order to qualify for the primary ballot, leading to primary "elections" with a single candidate on the ballot. See also Alaskan Indep. Party v. Alaska, 545 F.3d 1173, 1179-80 (9th Cir. 2008) (noting its skepticism that a scheme similar to that at issue in this case imposes a severe burden on a party's associational rights).

         Finally, the dissent relies on Jones, but Jones is not contrary to our holding. In that case, the Supreme Court held that states could not force parties to allow non-members-"those who, at best, have refused to affiliate with the party, and, at worst, have expressly affiliated with a rival"-to participate in that party's primary election. Jones, 530 U.S. at 577. Understandably, the Court held that such a "forced association" intruded on the party's First Amendment associational rights. Jones, 530 U.S. at 577; see also Democratic Party of the U.S. v. Wisc. ex rel. La Follette, 450 U.S. 107, 123-24 (1981).

         But no such burden exists in this case. When SB54 was initially passed, it did contain a significant associational burden in that it forced the party to associate with unaffiliated voters. However, that issue was fought in the first lawsuit, and the URP won. Now the URP's nominee is decided only by those individuals who have chosen to associate with the Party. Following the first lawsuit, SB54 is perfectly compliant with the holding in Jones.

         For these reasons, we conclude that SB54 does not impose a severe burden on the URP by potentially allowing the nomination of a candidate with whom the URP leadership disagrees. Therefore, in recognition of the Supreme Court's repeated and un-recanted dicta, we hold that the Either or Both Provision is at most only a minimal burden on the URP's First Amendment associational rights.[14]

         2. The State's Interests

         When an electoral provision "places no heavy burden on associational rights, " as we hold the Either or Both Provision does not, "a State's important regulatory interests will usually be enough to justify reasonable, nondiscriminatory restrictions." Clingman v. Beaver, 544 U.S. 581, 593 (2005) (quoting Timmons v. Twin Cities Area New Party, 520 U.S. 351, 358 (1997)). This was the approach adopted by the district court, which upheld the Either or Both Provision relying on the State's important regulatory interests of "managing elections in a controlled manner, increasing voter participation, and increasing access to the ballot." URP IV, 178 F.Supp.3d at 1179 (citing Utah Code §§ 20A-9-401, 2-300.6).[15]

         The State favorably adopted the court's reasoning on appeal, arguing that the Either or Both Provision is a "reasonable regulation furthering the important Utah interests of managing elections in a controlled manner, increasing voter participation, and increasing access to the ballot[.]" Aple's Br. at 34. Furthermore, these interests were not the creation of the district court, but were rather advanced by the State in its motion for summary judgment. Aplt. App. 629 n.91.

         The Supreme Court has, in the past, accepted similar articulations of a state's interest in regulating elections. See, e.g., Crawford v. Marion Cty. Election Bd., 553 U.S. 181, 191 (2008) (describing the state interest generally as an interest in "protecting the integrity and reliability of the electoral process"); Clingman, 544 U.S. at 593-94 (identifying state interests generally as "preserv[ing] political parties" and "enhance[ing] parties' electioneering and party-building efforts"); Timmons, 520 U.S. at 364 ("States certainly have an interest in protecting the integrity, fairness, and efficiency of their ballots and election processes.").

         These state interests constitute the very backbone of our constitutional scheme-the right of the people to cast a meaningful ballot. That is one of the rights through which all other rights are protected. In designing our delicate constitutional scheme the founders recognized the importance of representative democracy. They believed it was "essential to liberty that the government in general should have a common interest with the people, " and they designed a system in which certain branches of government "have an immediate dependence on, and an intimate sympathy with, the people." The Federalist, No. 52 (James Madison) (Terrance Ball ed., 2003).[16]

         Against this backdrop, a survey of the modern political landscape and its decreasing number of truly competitive legislative districts demonstrates that this right can be impaired or even rendered meaningless if not protected at the primary level. Now, more than ever, "we cannot close our eyes to the fact . . . that the practical influence of the choice of candidates at the primary may be so great as to affect profoundly the choice at the general election . . . and may thus operate to deprive the voter of his constitutional right of choice." Classic, 313 U.S. at 319. A government that refused to acknowledge its interest in protecting representative democracy during primary elections would be ignoring its solemn obligation to preserve Madison's "sound and important principle that the representative ought to be acquainted with the interests and circumstances of his constituents." The Federalist, No. 56 (James Madison) (Terrance Ball ed., 2003). After all, "a dominant party's primary can determine the representative ultimately elected[, ]" LULAC v. Perry, 548 U.S. 399, 487 (2006) (Breyer, J., concurring in part and dissenting in part), and "[a]s a practical matter, the ultimate choice of the mass of voters is predetermined when the nominations [by the major political parties] have been made." Morse v. Republican Party of Va., 517 U.S. 186, 205-06 (1996) (plurality opinion) (internal quotations omitted) (alteration in original).

         Are the voters who only participate in party primaries smarter than those who gather for a caucus or convention? Do they make better choices? Perhaps not. But it is not for us to debate the desirability of their outcomes if the voters are given a fair chance to express their preferences.

         3. Balancing the Burden on the Party against the Interests of the State

         How could it not be true in a representative democracy such as ours that the State has a strong-even compelling-interest in ensuring that the governed have an effective voice in the process of deciding who will govern them? On balance, then, the State interests in SB54 surely predominate over the minimal burdens imposed upon the URP. [17] Accordingly we AFFIRM the district court's holding that the Either or Both Provision is a constitutional exercise of the State's regulatory authority.[18]

         B. The Signature Gathering Requirement

         The URP also argues that SB54 is unconstitutional because the signature requirements for State House and State Senate are overly burdensome.[19] Given that the URP's established procedures do not involve a signature-gathering path at all, the URP's preference is clearly to have the signature-gathering path to the primary ballot eliminated all-together. Nonetheless, the crux of the URP's argument challenging this section is that the sheer number of signatures required to access the primary ballot for these two offices is too high a barrier to entry, and thus it unconstitutionally burdens the URP's right of association. Put differently, the URP argues here that the petition requirements established in SB54 make it too difficult to qualify for the primary ballot for these offices, notwithstanding the fact that the URP would undoubtedly prefer the signature-gathering requirements be so difficult to attain that the only candidates who ever qualified for the primary were the candidates who qualified by winning the URP's caucus.

         We pause briefly to note that SB54's severability clause would likely preclude us from striking down the entire law even were we to rule in favor of the URP on this issue, see Utah Code § 20A-1-103, but we nonetheless consider this argument in the alternative, and ultimately conclude that the Signature Requirements-while a burden-are not unconstitutional under the Anderson-Burdick balancing test as applied to the URP.

         Any form of candidate eligibility requirement necessarily implicates basic constitutional rights, but as a practical matter "not all restrictions imposed by the States on candidates' eligibility [to appear on the] ballot impose constitutionally-suspect burdens on voters' rights to associate or to choose among candidates." Anderson, 460 U.S. at 788. As we have previously held, a "state has a legitimate interest in requiring a showing of a 'significant modicum of support' before it prints on the state election ballot the name of a political party and its slate of candidates, '" noting that such a requirement "serves the important state interest of avoiding 'confusion, deception, and even frustration of the democratic process[.]" Artunoff v. Okla. State Election Bd., 687 F.2d 1375, 1378 (10th Cir. 1982) (quoting Jenness v. Fortson, 403 U.S. 431, 442 (1971)). We have further recognized that there is no hard-and-fast rule as to when a restriction on ballot eligibility becomes an unconstitutional burden. See Artnunoff, 687 F.2d at 1379. Instead, candidate eligibility requirements are considered under the Anderson-Burdick balancing test, in which a court is to weigh the character and magnitude of the asserted injury to the plaintiff against the interests advanced by the State as justifications for the eligibility requirements. Anderson, 460 U.S. at 789.

         Under SB54, an individual who wants to follow the signature-gathering path onto a State Senate primary ballot is required to collect 2, 000 signatures of registered voters who are residents of the district and permitted by the party to vote for its candidates in a primary election. Utah Code § 20A-9-408(8)(b)(iii). For a candidate for the State House, the requirement is 1, 000 signatures. Id § 20A-9-408-(8)(b)(iv). The district court stated that these requirements, considered alone, "may be unconstitutional as applied to the URP." URP III, 177 F.Supp.3d at 1366 ("[T]he signature gathering requirements under Utah Code §§ 20A-9-408(8)(b)(iii) and -408(8)(b)(iv) . . . may be unconstitutional as applied to the URP."). Nonetheless, because the court found signature gathering to be only an additional way of accessing the ballot, and the other way to access the ballot-via the convention path- constitutional, the district court did not invalidate the Signature Requirement, nor did it strike down the law as a whole, relying on LaRouche v. Kezer, 990 F.2d 36 (2d Cir. 1993). URP III, 177 F.Supp.3d at 1368.

         1. LaRouche v. Kezer

         In LaRouche, two candidates for the Democratic nomination for president challenged their inability to qualify for the Connecticut primary election ballot. LaRouche, 990 F.2d at 37. At issue were two Connecticut ballot-access laws. The first, the "media recognition" statute, required the Secretary of State to place on the primary ballot those candidates who are "generally and seriously recognized according to reports in the national or state news media." Id. (quoting Conn. Gen. Stat. § 9-465(a) (1989)). The second, the "petition alternative" statute, enabled candidates failing to gain access under the media recognition statute to appear on the ballot "if, within the next fourteen days, they collect signatures from one percent of their party's registered voters." Id. (citing Conn. Gen. Stat § 9-465(b), 9-467 to 469 (1989)).

         The district court in that case examined the two statutes in isolation, ultimately upholding the petition alternative but ruling that the media recognition statute was void for vagueness. LaRouche v. Kezer, 787 F.Supp. 298, 304-05 (D. Conn. 1992). On appeal, the Second Circuit held that the district court had erred in analyzing each statute separately. Rather, the court held, the constitutionality of a state's ballot access provisions should be examined in light of the entirety of the state's comprehensive election code. LaRouche, 990 F.2d at 39 (citing Burdick v. Takushi, 304 U.S. 428, 438-39 (1992); Storer, 415 U.S. at 738-40 (1974); Am. Party of Tex., 415 U.S. at 786-87). From this perspective, the court concluded that:

if the petition alternative would be constitutional standing alone, the additional method of a media recognition test is not in any sense an unconstitutional burden. To the contrary, because it is not constitutionally required, the media recognition test, whether or not vague, increases the opportunities to get on the ballot and reduces the burdens on candidates. . . . In short, if the district court was correct about the constitutionality of the petition alternative standing alone, then the media recognition statute is a fortiori valid as an additional means of ballot access.

LaRouche, 990 F.2d at 38-39. The court did add, however, that this approach would not save a ballot qualification statute if the statute were "wholly irrational-a coin-flip test, for example[.]" Id. at 38 n.1. The lesson from LaRouche, then, is that, provided it is not wholly irrational, an otherwise unconstitutional ballot-access statute will not be struck down so long as there is an alternative, constitutional, method of accessing the ballot.

         We do not in this case need to adopt this as a per se rule. We do, however, agree with the LaRouche court's recognition of Supreme Court precedent-not to mention our own precedent-as requiring us to analyze ballot-access opportunities in sum rather than in isolation. See, e.g., Burdick, 504 U.S. at 438-39 (finding a ban on write-in voting to be a limited burden "in light of the adequate ballot access afforded under Hawaii's election code."); Artunoff, 687 F.2d at 1379 (holding that the constitutionality of state ballot access laws should be determined only after "due consideration is given to the practical effect of the election laws of a given state, viewed in their totality") (citing Clements v. Fashing, 457 U.S. 957 (1982)). The lesson we take from LaRouche, then, is that when conducting Anderson-Burdick balancing with regards to state ballot-access laws, due weight should be accorded to whether a challenged provision stands in isolation as the sole method for accessing the ballot, or whether candidates have alternative and constitutionally sufficient paths through which to qualify. In the latter circumstance, the burden that any one particular route to ballot access that the law places on candidates, voters, and parties is necessarily reduced.

         2. SB54

         Applying this approach to the Utah Election Code, we find that the Signature Requirement withstands constitutional scrutiny.

         SB54 provides two methods for candidates to qualify for the primary ballot for a QPP. First, a candidate may qualify for the primary ballot at the QPP's nominating caucus. Utah Code § 20A-9-407. No party to this lawsuit challenges the constitutionality of this provision, and in fact the URP's primary assertion, as discussed above, is that this should be the only available method for qualifying for the Republican primary ballot. Therefore, we accept that there is at least one constitutional method of ballot access under the Utah election code.

         The second method allows a candidate to gain access to the primary ballot by gathering signatures of "registered voters in the state who are permitted by the qualified political party to vote for the qualified political party's candidates in the primary election." Utah Code § 20A-9-408(8). For candidates seeking a place on the ballot for State House, the law requires the collection of 1, 000 signatures. Id. at 20A-9-408(8)(b)(iv). For candidates seeking a place on the ballot for State Senate, the required number swells to 2, 000. Id. 20A-9-408(8)(b)(iii).[20]

         In a perfect example of why it is prudent for legislatures to use ratio requirements as opposed to absolute numbers, the burden imposed by the signature-gathering requirements varies widely from district to district. At the outset of this litigation, a candidate using the signature-gathering path to access the primary ballot for State Senate needed to collect signatures from between 6.21% of registered Republicans (in district 14) and 30.82% of registered Republicans (in district 1) depending on the district in which he or she was running. The numbers are even starker for the State House, where a candidate was required to collect signatures from between 7.14% (in district 27) and 57.2% (in district 26) of the registered Republicans in a given district.[21] The URP argues that these numbers are so high as to severely burden its right of association with potential candidates of its party and cannot be saved as reasonably calculated to serve a compelling state interest. Aplt. Br. at 42-45.

         If the signature-gathering path stood alone we would be inclined to agree. Petition requirements are a constitutional method of serving a state's "legitimate interest in requiring a showing of a 'significant modicum of support'" before adding a candidate to an election ballot, Artunoff, 687 F.2d at 1378 (quoting Jenness, 403 U.S. at 442), but the Supreme Court has not yet approved a requirement greater than 5% of the registered voters in a given election. See Jenness, 403 U.S. at 438 (upholding a statute requiring a petition signed by 5% of eligible voters in order for an independent candidate to qualify for the general election ballot). We do not hold that 5% is the outer-boundary of what can pass constitutional muster, but it is likely the limit is at least visible from there. Where, as here, the regulation requires signatures from over 50% of the eligible voters in some districts, we can conclude that the State's legitimate interest in requiring a candidate to show a "modicum" of support no longer outweighs the burden imposed on candidates, parties, and most of all, voters, at least as to those districts.

         However, when viewing the Utah Election Code in totality, See Artunoff, 687 F.2d at 1379, we are not convinced that the burdens imposed by the collection of avenues Utah has created onto a primary ballot unconstitutionally burdens the URP's First Amendment right of association.[22] First, the State has a significant interest in regulating the manner in which a candidate may qualify for an election ballot.

A state has a legitimate interest in requiring a showing of a "significant modicum of support" before it prints on the state election ballot the name of a political party and its slate of candidates. This serves the important state interest of avoiding "confusion, deception, and even frustration of the democratic process at the general election." Jenness v. Fortson, 403 U.S. 431, 442, (1971). Furthermore, the states "have important interests in protecting the integrity of their political processes from frivolous or fraudulent candidacies, in ensuring that their election processes are efficient, in avoiding voter confusion caused by an overcrowded ballot, and in avoiding the expense and burden of run-off elections." Clements v. Fashing, 457 U.S. 957 (1982).

Artunoff, 687 F.2d at 1378. This interest applies with equal force to primary elections as it does to general elections. N.Y. State Bd. of Elections v. Lopez Torres, 552 U.S. 196, 204 (2008) ("Just as States may require persons to demonstrate a significant modicum of support before allowing them access to the general-election ballot, lest it become unmanageable, they may similarly demand a minimum degree of support for candidate access to a primary ballot.") (internal citations and quotations omitted). Therefore, for Anderson-Burdick balancing purposes, these "important regulatory interests" will be sufficient to uphold SB54's ...


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